“I can’t tell my boss what I really think. I’d probably get fired.” I hear this lament too often from employees with legitimate concerns carrying potential impacts to the organization’s success. Personally, that thought hasn’t crossed my mind. If it needs to be said, I tend to say it (maybe a little too often). This situation made me realize there are ways that employees should act more like consultants and therefore experience the freedom that comes with it.
Own your career. Often employees become slaves to their organization. They fear layoffs, company reorgs, etc. They are dependent on the company benefits and have no contingency if something goes wrong. Consultants often don’t know what’s next beyond their current contract. Because of this, they have to take their career into their own hands. No one their pushing them on their development, encouraging them to network, or helping them with a career path. Consultants work to be the best so they can stay engaged in work. Additionally, they always keep an eye out for the next engagement. And, if by chance there isn’t a new engagement when the old one is ending, most have an emergency fund they can fall back on. Employees can learn from this and own their development, deliver great work, and be networking both within and outside a company. By doing this they will have assurance that if they should loose their position, there is somewhere they can go next.
Always add value. When you get paid by the hour you are acutely aware of adding value to the client for that hour. Consultants never want to be in the position where the client doesn’t feel like they are getting their money’s worth. This is more obvious in consulting relationships because the company sees every dollar spent via an invoice and that ties back to work that was recently delivered. It’s like buying a vacuum, taking it home and vacuuming, and then getting the credit card bill. You know when you pay the bill whether the vacuum was worth it. With employees, the paychecks get cut. Perhaps the manager approves a timesheet but dollars aren’t listed on the timesheet. There is less of a connection between the paycheck and what value the employee has provided. Often it’s only reviewed on an annual basis during performance reviews. However, an employee should strive to show the value they add. This can be done by keeping a journal of accomplishments and tying a dollar figure to it. How much money did you save the company? Make the company? Share this with the boss in a status meeting and definitely when performance appraisal time comes. That way, when you ask for a raise, you can justify it!
Say what needs to be said. Act in the company’s best interest. Consultants are employed to make the company a better place. Often this results in loyalty to doing what is right rather than loyalty to an individual (like a boss). While not always the case, leaders find this refreshing because the higher they move up in a company, the harder it is to find people who will tell them the brutal truth. Hence the reason they hire consultants! If an employee is owning their career, like suggested above, they should have no fear speaking the truth to leaders. The company becomes less of a political place if you aren’t trying to protect your job all the time. It’s very liberating.
Focus on pleasing your customer. As a consultant, you never know if you will be on an engagement past the current problem. And you definitely won’t stay on the assignment if your customer isn’t happy. Tying back to always adding value, consultants have to ensure they are meeting the customer’s expectations and addressing the problem they were brought on to solve. Employees are hired to solve problems as well. Customers are those people who are the recipients of the employee’s work. If you are in sales, not only do you have external customers, but your internal customers are the ones who have to deliver on your commitments. They have a voice in your career success! By focusing on keeping all your customers happy you will be positioning yourself to have a profitable career.
Never be a victim of your company. Stay ahead by making yourself too valuable to be let go, while simultaneously always be looking for other job opportunities both internal and external to the company. If you approach your job more as a consultant you will take more ownership of your career destiny and feel the freedom that accompanies it. How do you own your career? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Jana Axline is Chief Project Officer at Project Genetics and the author of Becoming You. Through her leadership musings, she inspires audiences to grow as leaders and ultimately achieve who they were created to be. For more information visit Project Genetics.